HAPPY CLASSROOM 2: Making Use of Daily Time
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey
Hang on, in our first post in this series we were talking superheroes and inspiration…now we’re talking routine?
What does routine have to do with being a superhero? Help your child see this – everything.
No finer a philosopher than Roman emperor Marcus Aurelias pointed out everything is a series of steps. Superhero Iron Man checked his equipment before using it. In fact, nearly all
his downtime was spent checking and refining, building new equipment and skills!
In today’s classroom, we realise that to stay true to educator John Dewey’s quote above,
we are committing to making education a large, joyful part of our daily lives. So what does time look like to an 11plus superhero? The answer may be both smaller and larger than you imagine: 10% of your child’s week, around 8% of your week.
Let’s start by making one thing clear: your child will not be studying all the time.
Play is not an option – it is crucial. They need it. (And anyway, play is learning.)
Exercise is crucial.
Laughter and friends are crucial.
Life is important – it doesn’t disappear.
For example, for my neighbour’s son and ours, instead of playing all day at
weekends, both children studied in the mornings when they were at their freshest
and, as importantly, before anything else could distract them. (After that, they would
throw apples or toys to each other over the garden fence and play all afternoon.)
This is why most schools teach English and Maths in the morning.
Why not hack the habit of the professionals?
Let’s begin to sculpt a possible routine. If your job is not 9-5 (is anyone’s now?), please keep reading, this is going to work. It is about the hours and the focus for each hour, not when those hours are.
1. Commit to one written/multiple choice test at least 3 weekdays. Switch
between the subjects your child will be tested on, whether English, maths, verbal or
Use a wide selection of web, pdf and print-out/paper resources. For example, Bond
Assessment books, Schofield & Sims Mental Arithmetic books, exampapersplus, maths practice from a reputable site like ixl or piacademy. TES is another free-to-sign up resource
website for teachers, which you can register and use to access hundreds of amazing
lessons uploaded by teachers. TIME: 30-60 minutes x 3-5 days.
2. Another week-day task would be to read through and mind-map a handful of
short chapters from Multiple-Choice English for Grammar School Success, to
allow your child to search for and beat specific traps hidden in English multiple choice questions and answers. When sitting a multiple-choice test, encourage your child to use the tips and hacks learned in the book to help them sit the test. Reading & mind-mapping: TIME: 30 mins.
3. A creative writing task, in which you deliberately choose to practise specific skills, is also an effective weekday learning behaviour. TIME: 20-60 mins.
4. Saturdays and Sundays: Two longer sessions in which you spend time on a couple of topics in depth, plus another writing exercise. (If your choice of school does not test creative writing, devote more time to the areas that will be tested.) My son and I used to go to a café, which we renamed as The Maths Café, where he would work through maths, comprehension and writing. Sometimes the café was the kitchen table; we even had it under the kitchen table. Make it fun: link it to pleasure and happiness. Your child will be glad to spend time with you. TIME: 2-3 hours each day with short breaks.
Shorter, weekly sessions give valuable practice at focusing and building the habit of learning.
This weekly routine also reveals:
✓ Topics not yet covered at school;
✓ Topics your child needs extra time and practice to understand.
Please note that first point above. Your child is going to be tested on areas
of maths and English that are often not taught until Y6, even though many tests
come at the start of Y6. Thus, another time truth is that your help and preparation
compresses time by introducing and teaching your child a handful of topics earlier
than the ordinary school calendar allows. The result is they learn more in less time.
By focusing on these gaps in your longer, weekend sessions together, in which you can share your fascination and confusion with a topic, as well as how much you are enjoying learning
it, what your child doesn’t know transforms into the next topic they are brilliant at! A
helpful attitude when blocks emerge is that yes, it’s tricky, and so was the last topic
we couldn’t do – and we can do that now.
An early challenge for my daughter was 2-step word problems; for my son it was
sorting out common homophones, particularly our/are and their/they’re. We identified
this during a week of assessments, then studied these areas in plenty of detail over
a month of weekends. We then repeated the weekly process to find more areas to
improve, while also checking to see if the topic we had just spent time on was now
easier to answer questions on.
Make sure you dip into more than one subject in your weekly sessions. Your child
needs to be developing across all 11+ subjects. It’s also vital to practise switching
between subjects because this is what happens in the real test, with a maths paper
followed by an English paper, or vice versa, on the same day.
Let’s look at a second example of a successful learning week, this time for Y5
children, perhaps from Spring 1 (January) onwards.
Monday: One or two long tests. Mark these on the day as part of the review; it will
help cement the learning and identify next-success focus areas. TIME: 45 minutes per
test, plus 15-20 minutes marking.
Tuesday: Choose one of the questions from last night’s test in which an error
happened. Now go through 2-3 books/websites and work only on that subject. Take
percentages as an example. Look at the percentages section of Bond – How To Do
11+ Maths, CGP KS2 Study Book & Question Book, CGP Year 6 Study Book for
New Curriculum, BBC Bitesize, TES, etc. TIME: 45-60 minutes.
Wednesday: Repeat this process for another question and another topic from
Monday’s test. TIME: 45-60 minutes.
Thursday: Choose another subject and do a long test. If you did English and maths
on Monday, do verbal or non-verbal today. Mark it on the same day, celebrate what
is known at the time, then note the tricky parts to focus on later. If you are mindful of
making your child feel happy for their effort and achievement, they are more likely to
agree to do more learning the next day. Feeling good feels good. TIME: 45-60 minutes.
Friday: Day off. (Really!)
Saturday: A longer session using books and websites on problem areas, plus one or
two long multiple choice or written tests. The aim? To close in on further weaknesses
so they become new strengths, show the learning achieved in the week, and
build stamina and speed for the real test. TIME: 3 hours with short breaks.
You may find previously difficult questions are now answered correctly with
understanding. If not, repeat the process, or log it and return to the subject in a
couple of weeks.
Sunday: Two long multiple choice or standard written papers, plus marking together,
plus a short teaching session on one identified topic. TIME: 2-3 hours with short
EXTRA LEARNING SAUCE – SPACED LEARNING MINI-BITES.
Having to return to a subject a day or two later uses a different part of the brain than when we spend a long time on one subject, and can help with long term memory of concepts. SO, to mix it up, take a topic you learned, but instead of spending an hour on it, spend half an hour on helping your child understand the concept, then have them complete just 3-4 questions on this topic each day over four or five days, with perhaps a day off as part of this. E.g. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. This method gets round what psychologists call the ‘recency’ effect, whereby you think you will always remember what you are working on right now because it is familiar. In truth, we often forget. So having to remember the idea a day later, having to call up what we studied, makes that learning stronger. By the end of the 5 day period, your child’s learning could be so much stronger in that topic. Also, your child will be happy to only do 4 questions a day!
IMPORTANT: Does your child’s target school test creative writing? If so, encourage
and support your child to write 2-3 times a week during the summer holiday before
Y6. The more they write, both fiction and non-fiction, the more information you will have to help them improve and the more they will have a feel for how long it takes to write the correct amount.
TIME: 40-60 minutes.
In terms of resources, I find it’s helpful to use as wide a variety as possible from different providers. You can’t be sure which explanation is going to hit home with your child, nor do you
know what the exact layout of a question will be, so exposure to multiple formats just
makes sense. Of course, if your school uses one provider for the tests, such as GL
or CEM, then you can use these formats in a lot of your rehearsal. Still, don’t rely on these exclusively.
HAPPY AND SECRET MEGA-SUCCESSFUL LEARNING TIP…
Make time at the end of a focus-lesson for your child to write one or two
questions in a topic they have been studying. For example, design their own
averages question for you to work out mean, mode, median and range.
Why does this help?
✓ It shines a light on what your child understands. It also shows you what you
know. Remember, it is okay to be learning with our children.
✓ It’s creative and fun. You can find the average number of spiders that fall in
school custard – anything.
✓ Creativity and fun will help your child engage and stay learning.
✓ It builds your personal and learning relationship.
✓ In thinking how questions are put together, your child learns what to look for in
a question. Where are the keywords? Which information is irrelevant? How
can the mathematical units be changed (e.g. mm to m) to trick a person?
✓ It’s double learning. Not only are they solving the questions you write, they
must also work out answers to their own questions to check if you are correct.
It’s buy-one-get-one free learning.
As a prompt, let your child know you are going to write one or more incorrect answers on purpose to see if they can find them. Equally, you could have your child play the same trick on you. I hope you see just how fantastic a teaching tool children’s own questions can be.
This routine is all very well, but what if you work weekends or nights?
Remember our picture from the beginning?
To be clear, a successful routine is about three things:
- The hours needed to embrace all topics successfully.
- The regularity and good habit-building helps rocket-boost learning by using
spaced-time, by exposing your child to more moments of thinking about the
topics, as well as by reducing time available for non-learning poor habits like
purposeless internet browsing.
- A crucial balance between practice/gap-finding sessions and longer sessions on a single subject.
Swap days and times as you need to.
Build a routine honestly around your life and there’s more chance of it working.
If you work weekends, but are around during the week, then do longer sessions after
It adds up to approximately 10 hours a week. In the summer holiday, expand this to
3 hrs a day, around 18 hrs a week, with a day off. 18 out of 168 hours in a week is just north of 10%.
Over to you. Take time to digest this post. You may wish to mindmap the ideas and reflect on your version of a routine that works for you. Do note that it is quite likely you will have to make some adjustments to your ‘normal’ family routine, but then you know that, because you already know education is life – it is why you are committing to the 11plus adventure for your child in the first place. Please share your alternative routines and let me know if I have missed anything you feel should be included.
See you next time for the third post in our series on how time can help your child get the most of their 11 plus learning.
Start learning, stay learning, stay 11plushappy!